I am sitting in limbo at the moment.  Waiting for news of the dependent pass that will allow me to travel to Brunei, and start a two year adventure there with my husband.  This is something that happened rather rapidly (from planning to settle into life in New Plymouth in October, to quitting jobs in November, and leaving in January, it was a bit of a whirlwind…)  But it’s also very exciting, and I love telling people about it!

Whenever I tell people about it, the first question I hear is “So what are you going to be doing over there?”

And my answer is usually a variation on “I’m not sure; I probably can’t work, but I’m sure I’ll find things to occupy my time”.  (Which, incidentally, is the truth…)

The real truth is that I want to spend the time working out who I am, and how best to be that person, and live a life of fulfillment.  But that’s a bit intense for your average acquaintance.

In this limbo time, the process is starting.  I’ve been unemployed for six weeks, and four of those have been spent travelling around the country visiting family, and relaxing in the fabulous New Zealand summer (seriously, best one ever).  As you can imagine, I’ve had a lot of free time.  And I like to think of it as practice for Brunei (the weather, the solitude, the dragging out of to do lists).

The month has been different to what I expected.  I have done more yoga and more knitting that I would have thought.  And have made up for that by doing less reading and writing.  I have spent less time outside, and more time sewing.  I have seen more people, been more different places, and explored less.

And despite those differences, it’s been a great month.  I feel relaxed and mostly calm (despite the slowness of the immigration process).  I have been fairly healthy (although the last week leaves room for improvement).  I feel less concerned about finding ways to occupy my time.  And most of all, I’m excited to get over there and see how things translate.

The one thing I would like to shift is the amount of reading and writing.  I love both of these activities, but haven’t really found the headspace for them.  I am still on track for 100 books in 2013, but I haven’t gotten as far ahead as I would like to.  And my blogs?  Let’s just say they’ve been pretty quiet.  I think part of this is a sense that I don’t have anything interesting to say.  My blog here is about work, and I’m not working.  The other one is about life as an Expat, but I’m not yet an expat.  So I’m hoping changes to my circumstances might shift the silence. But it’s something I’m going to have to keep an eye on when I do arrive.

I am really grateful to have had this opportunity.  It’s not often someone gets to be unemployed without having to worry about income, without having anyone to look after, and while healthy and fit.  And it’s an opportunity I intend to make the most of.  I can’t wait for the journey ahead of me, and in the meantime, I hope I can keep enjoying the step of the journey that I’m currently in.


Self awareness

I don’t think it would be all that controversial to say that self awareness is a key component of career journeys and career change.  I have most certainly found that to be true for me, and in the career journeys of others, I have observed elements of it many times.

As someone coming from a career construction and narrative theory angle on careers and counselling,  I believe the most important element of self awareness is incorporating insights into your career story, and understanding how those insights can help to transform the career story in the desired direction.  In simpler terms, people first need to know things about themselves, then work out how those things fit in with other things they already know, then work out how to change.  Self awareness is the first step (although this is obviously a looping cycle, rather than a simple linear process).

Over the last few days, I have been observing and taking part in a very interesting discussion on this matter in the LinkedIn Careers Debate Group (which I would highly recommend to anyone working in careers…).  The discussion has changed and grown, covering many different elements of the topic of self awareness, and tackling meaty issues like “what is truth?”  But my favourite piece of the conversation was this comment from David L:

I’ve found that clients really appreciate when I frame qualities like strengths and weaknesses as stemming from the same value-neutral trait. Let’s take a common one as an example: persistence and stubbornness. These stem from the same quality, which is neither good nor bad. The label of persistence or stubbornnness is applied only when the quality is displayed in a particular context, and perceived by a subjective observer (which could be the person with that quality, or an outside observer). Only then does that person make a value judgment that results in the label ‘persistence’ or ‘stubbornness.’

This is a relatively simple strategy, but I believe it could be so powerful.  People are so quick to assign value to everything in life (decisions, traits, choices, thoughts, emotions).  And this judgement of value can lead to many personal issues (negative self talk, perfectionism, procrastination, avoidance).  This strategy could be a useful way to approach these issues.

When I came across this, I could instantly see how well this would fit with my model of counselling, and my work with mindfulness.  So I got to thinking about how I could use it for myself, and came up with the following:

  • I am input focussed.  
    I like to find a lot of information from a lot of different sources.  In some contexts, this presents as good research skills and quality decision making.  In other contexts, this displays as a slight internet addiction and procrastination.
  • I make connections. 
    I like to join ideas together, and see how things link.  This helps me to be a pretty good strategic thinker, and gives me a good memory.  But it also means that sometimes I cannot focus in on small details and can become too focussed on the big picture to make progress.
  • I care about people.
    I want people to be happy, and I like working with people.  This means I have a strong drive to help people, and am unselfish in wanting them to succeed.  But it also means I have a tendency to avoid conflict and I sometimes ignore practicalities.

The thinking was interesting.  But what’s really important is what I can do with that thinking.  So I thought of the following things to help me understand how these traits can be both positive and negative, and how I can use this awareness as I build my career.

  1. Assess the value of the different forms of input that I am getting, and remove any that aren’t valuable.  Unsubscribe from the email newsletters that I never read, hide people from my Facebook news feed, consider carefully who I follow on Twitter.  
  2. Write a list of my big picture goals, and link my to do list to these goals.  Find a way to do this easily, so that the details are always connected to the big picture.  If something’s not connected, delete it from the to do list.
  3. Create a list of times where confronting a conflict or difficult situation would have actually been better for everyone involved.  Consider if there are any conflicts I am currently avoiding, and create a plan of action to overcome.

The list looks good to me, and I think completing it will be awesome.  But most importantly, it feels really positive.  Although it tackles some of my challenges and struggles, I feel like it does so in a more positive manner, recognising and accepting who I am, and working with that to make positive change.  I definitely think this is a strategy I will use with myself and others in future.

Who’s with me?  Do we need to invent value neutral words for some of these traits? How do you think you could use this in your life?

I quit my job: one year on

One year (+one month) ago, I quit my job.  It was a big move, and I was truly scared.  But by the time I got to actually making the move, it was not so scary after all.

One year (+one month) on, I’m making another big move.  Packing up my life, following my husband overseas (and yes, quitting another job), and moving to Brunei for two years as a “trailing spouse”.  It is a massive move, and still very much in the scary phase.  I’m hoping that it works out like my last big decision: in the end, not so scary after all.

In the last year (+one month), I have learned so much about myself.  I’ve changed jobs; gone back to full time, then part time, study; had at least 5 different job offers/opportunities; battled infertility and depression; renovated two rooms of our house; become an aunty; had a new garage built; finished a Graduate Certificate in Career Development; discovered mindfulness; recommitted to yoga practice; done a Whole 30 and gone Paleo; lost 10 kg; completed my first multi-day tramp; and so much more.  I am stronger physically and mentally.

I can’t attribute all of this to quitting my job, but I am absolutely certain that the confidence I have gained through my job change has contributed to this personal transformation over the last year (+one month).  And I am equally certain that this confidence will continue to help me grow and develop in the next year.

One year from now, I expect to be in Brunei, reasonably settled into the local expat life, living a grand adventure with my favourite person.  I would love to have added another person to our amazing little family, and to have found some interesting things to do career-wise, but for now I’m just planning to take things as they come.

But most of all, one year from now, I hope that I am happy and feeling fulfilled.  The details won’t matter as long as that is true.

Learning to be alone

I’m sitting on the couch, laptop on lap, coffee in hand, crappy show on TV, and right now I’m pretty happy. But I also know that if I don’t watch myself, I’ll be in exactly this position for way too long, and I’ll soon be pretty unhappy. And the likelihood of me blobbing too long increases greatly when my husband’s away, as he is today.

So one of my latest goals is to learn how to be alone. Given that I may soon be a “trailing spouse” and spending a LOT of time alone, this may become even more important. The last thing I want to do is spend 2 years on the internet, missing out on all Brunei has to offer.

So, as is my nature, the first thing I did was start googling. And the first thing that popped up was this gorgeous wee video.

I love that it encourages us to be patient and start slow. It recognises that this is a learning process, and won’t necessarily be naturally easy.

But it also reminds me that I’ve spent time alone before, and that I’ve done lots of those things. I lived in Holland for 2 months, in which time I travelled alone, went to movies alone, went out to dinner alone, explored alone, cooked alone, and learnt alone. I was always happy to have someone to share some time with, but I was also happy being alone.

With all these things in mind, I came up with a few small goals for improving my enjoyment of my alone time:

  1. Set aside at least 3 hours a week of alone time.
  2. Take myself on at least one date a month – a movie, a dinner, coffee, whatever I feel like.
  3. Create a list of things I love doing alone (playing the piano, crafting, reading, writing, “spafternoon”)
  4. Turn off the TV and the laptop, and leave them that way.
  5. Create a playlist of “my” music – the stuff my husband is not so keen on, and that will encourage me to dance and sing.

I’m working on wooing myself again, and I can’t wait.

On flexibility

After completing a personal model of practice for my studies, outlining my intention to work in organisational development as well as in private careers practice, I have had a bit of a curve ball thrown at me. My husband has been approached for a fixed term expat role in Brunei, and would really like to accept it. So we are now considering our options, and will potentially be overseas early next year. This, of course, changes my own career plans, almost entirely. It’s a scary but exciting prospect.

And although my plans have changed, the process of completing a model of practice has been very useful. The model covered my theoretical foundations, the ways I will work in practice, and the types of work I would like to do.  It took a lot of thinking to summarise my views on careers and the world, and how I wish to implement those views in my work.

I will not necessarily be able to get work over there, but I also don’t want to completely abandon my career development while I act as the “trailing spouse”.
The model helped me to see that although the details may have changed, the fundamentals/foundations remain the same. Whatever I’m doing, I maintain the same worldview, preferences, and career theories. And having these written down has helped me to consider some alternative ways to use my experience:

  • I love the pure counselling side of things, so I could find opportunities to do career counselling with expats there, even if it’s just volunteering for experience.
  • I believe in narratives, and love to collect them, so I could start a blog that captures career stories.
  • I believe in entrepreneurship and creativity, so I could research different ways to offer online services.
  • I want to work with people searching for purpose, so could find online communities where these people come together.
  • I value mindfulness, so I could work on developing more counselling skills in this area.
  • I am interested in MBTI, so I could research accreditation programmes in Asia
  • I appreciate theory, particularly career construction theory, and also love learning, so I could investigate Masters programmes that I could do internationally.
  • I love thinking and new ideas, as well as writing, so I could start writing a book.

All of these ideas came quickly and easily out of my model of practice, and have made me significantly more excited about the prospect. I am still pretty scared (of the sheer logistics of moving overseas in 2 months), but these ideas help me to look forward to the opportunity, despite having to give up two significant opportunities at home.

And best of all, this has shown me how valuable flexibility can be, and how having a consistent foundation allows this flexibility. However I move forward with my career practice, I believe that these lessons will help me to work more effectively with clients who are experiencing change.

Opportunity Knocks

Some things you have to work really hard for. Efforts over years and years get you slightly closer, until you finally reach your goal. But some things just seem to fall into your lap.

There are things (hard personal things) that fit into the first category for me. Two and a half years later I am still battling away, and don’t seem to be getting any closer… Yet.

But my latest opportunity was one of the latter. Here’s the story:

When I decided to move into career counselling, I went to speak to a local career counsellor (J). I thought she was great, so we kept in touch on and off. Her business partner (M) did some study at the same time as me, and we met at a class event, and also kept in touch after that. Then last week I got an email from M saying “Can you call me? It’s about doing some work with us.” I called, and found out that J was pulling out of the business, and they wanted me on board. I kind of assumed it would be little bits and pieces of work, but after meeting with M, it sounds like it’s going to be the whole hog. (If I want to, and as soon as I finish my study that is).

So basically, as of a few months away, I could potentially be a partner in a business. Consulting with clients and organisations. Working independently. In short, I’ll be living my dream. Just like that.

I cannot express how exciting this is. But it’s also strange. I feel like it was too easy. Suspiciously easy. And like without the hard work, I don’t deserve it. I’ll just have to remind myself that sometimes the hard work comes at the start, and sometimes it comes later. And if I’m going to make this work, the hard work will definitely come. Probably sooner, rather than later!

A break from Facebook

Today I took the plunge, and got my sister to change my password to Facebook, so I’d have a forced break from it.

This is something that I’ve been considering for awhile, but I’ve been scared. It actually pains me to admit that. Seriously, I’m a grown woman, and I’m scared of leaving Facebook in case I miss out on something (I don’t even know what I’m scared of missing out on, but we’ll see…)

But today I realised that my addiction to technology and Facebook was holding me back, and making me forget how to be me. I spend so much time checking in, and seeing what’s happening that I’m not fully committing to my life, and that makes me sad. So I bit the bullet, and I cut the cord.

Not sure how this experiment will go, but I’m hopeful that it’s going to be a very good thing for me.

I’ll keep you updated!

Getting back into the habit

I’m one week into my Graduate Diploma course. Starting studying again has been very exciting, but also a little nerve wracking. It’s been 5 years since I finished my degree, and since then I haven’t had to study much at all. I love studying and learning, and I can’t wait to do it. But I think I have to allow myself a little bit of time to get back into the habit.

When I first received all the readings, and read through the assignments, it seemed a bit overwhelming, and I started to get quite nervous.

But then I went to choir for the first time after the Christmas break. And I was rusty at it. I’d only been off for a couple of months, but I couldn’t quite get in the zone. My voice was not in peak condition, I got annoyed by the conductor’s bad little habits. As the night went on, things got better, and by the end I was loving it. I love singing, and I was excited to do it, but it was still a bit hard at first.

And the same thing is true for my study. I love learning and studying, I’m excited to do it, but it’s going to be hard at first.

So this week my focus has been on setting up a good routine for study, so that I can work out how to fit everything in, and stay on top of things, rather than doing everything at the last minute. I’m using Sunday afternoons/evenings to plan for the week ahead, focusing on one paper each day, Monday – Thursday, and having Friday and Saturday to wrap anything up that needs it, and do some other bits and pieces.

Other key things will be setting up some sessions with other local students (surprisingly there are two others in my small town), asking plenty of questions of the lecturers, and attending the intensive weekends that are put on for distance students like me.

I don’t think the routine is going to make it easy. In fact, I think it’s going to be an intense semester. But I’m hoping that I’ll manage to get through it with my sanity intact.

I can’t wait to get into it!

And so it begins…

Today my study officially kicked off.  Since quitting my job (well since well before quitting my job), this is what I’ve been waiting for.  So this morning, as the emails rolled in, letting me know that papers were open online, I was excited, distracted, nervous, and couldn’t wait to get home.

And when I did get home, I jumped on the computer and saw what was ahead of me.  I am doing 4 papers this semester, all leading towards a Graduate Diploma in Career Development.  And I’ve heard that it’s a big course load.  But when I first got into it, it didn’t seem too bad.  Each paper has two assignments, as well as a Reflective Journal (aka a blog).  There are a couple of readings each week for each one.  All quite do-able really.

But then I started putting everything into my planner, thought about how much I usually get done in a day, and the other things I have coming up in the next few months, and realised that this might be a bit more difficult than I first thought.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m willing to work hard for this, but I also know that I need to be kind to myself, and not get burned out on it.

At this stage, I’m not planning to change anything.  But I did make sure I checked out when I could pull out of papers and still get a full refund (10% of the course length, or the middle of next week).  So I’m going to see how I go once I see the printed materials, and make a decision then.

In the meantime, I’m planning in ways to get things done, thinking about how I can do work over Easter, and contemplating a study trip to visit my sister and her new baby!

Team building the Marshmallow Challenge way

Two weeks ago, my manager came to me and asked me to drag out some information on Belbin Team Roles for one of the teams at my work.

Last week, she asked if I could run the team building session for them.

Yesterday, I ran my first ever team building. And all indications are that it was a success. (Yay!)

In the lead up to the session, every member of the team completed an occupational personality questionnaire.  We then brought everyone’s information together to look at the team as a whole.  The goal of the session was to introduce people to team roles/team types, and then to use the information from everyone’s individual reports to create a stronger team.  So we split the day into 4 sections:

  1. The Marshmallow Challenge

    I heard about the Marshmallow Challenge from Tom Wujec’s TED talk, Build a tower, build a team.  The talk explains the challenge: to build a tower out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, 1 yard of tape, 1 yard of string and a marshmallow.  The marshmallow must be on the top.   Teams have 18 minutes to complete it.

    The challenge sounds easy, but it’s far from it.  About 50% of teams end up with a standing tower.  Out of the four teams in our challenge, one team made a truly standing tower (27 inches high – the highest I could find record of was 39 inches, average is around 20 inches).  Another team cheated to get theirs to stand, but were pretty close.

    After the building, I facilitated a discussion about how the teams worked together, and then got them to guess which of the 3 ‘categories’ of Belbin Team Types they were – Social, Action or Thinking.  Each group guessed correctly, which started to introduce the group to the concept.

  2.  A Team Map

    After the towers, we created a map of the entire team, by completing the Team Circle from the Belbin website.   We broke for afternoon tea, and let people discuss where they sat.
  3.  An Explanation 

    After a break, we all came back for a quick presentation.  In the presentation, I covered the strengths and allowable weaknesses of the nine types.  I also got people to share their types as we went through.

  4. Using the Information

    Once we’d covered all the types, we got into the real work.  We split the team into their smaller work teams, and got each team to create their circle.  Each team then had to come up with three key strengths and three key challenges. It was great to see the things teams came up with, and interesting to take part in some of the discussions.

And then we were done.  Phew!

Overall, the day was great.  I love the cheesy personality type/team building stuff.  I know some people don’t really get a kick out of it, but I just love learning more about how people work and think and live.  Everyone’s so different, and I find that fascinating!  I also remembered how much I love public speaking and presentations. And getting compliments from people on how well I understood the material, when I first learned about it two weeks ago was a confidence booster.  Basically, I couldn’t be happier.

And I can’t wait to do the next one…  Anyone need some team building?